“The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives is to find the eye in that hurricane and act from that place of inner strength.” – Arianna Huffington
Accountability isn’t just for “the bad people.” It’s about healing. It’s about acknowledging the common humanity and fallibility that we share. We all make bad choices sometimes – even really bad ones. Sometimes we don’t see the consequences or we just don’t care at that time. Accountability relies on the premise that no matter how lost we are, there is always a road home even if it might be long and painful.
Holding someone accountable is really hard. It’s not easy to open up about our suffering. We have a lot of stigma over authenticity as it can feel like weakness. Transformative Justice encourages harmful folks to hold themselves accountable with some support. In addition, any public accounts or reports of consent violation can be used against you in a court later. So while it may be helpful for healing or closure to write an Impact Statement now, please consult a lawyer before sharing it.
Opening this up is often a ton of emotional energy, time, and effort. It’s hard to face the disappointment that it might do no good even after all that work. Why bother when an Alleged (someone who has caused you harm) will likely just Deny it or try to Control the Narrative?
Well, how you go about doing it matters. The process matters. The execution of the process matters. How an Alleged is primed for the information matters. Yet that emotional labour for this process is not solely on your shoulders. If it were, you probably wouldn’t bother.
Keep in mind there are benefits for you: it can be healing, cathartic, and assist closure just to write an Impact Statement. Transformative Justice can work even without the participation of an Alleged.
Why Transformative Justice?
Restorative Justice only means “a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation;” however we aren’t in a system of criminal justice like that. Our system is punitive. “Applying the principles and practices of restorative justice beyond the criminal system” is called Transformative Justice.
One tool in this toolkit is an Impact Statement. It is a summary of the impact an Incident has had on your life directly or on your life indirectly as the result of the impact on someone you love or support directly.
Another tool is Witnessing. It can have many forms, but usually involves the information in your Impact Statement getting seen and understood (witnessed) by the Alleged person described in that Impact Statement. Maybe people read their impact statements at the front of a room to a silent Alleged who actively listens. Maybe a mediator works through the pages with the Alleged directly helping them comprehend how the two different experiences of the same events are not only compatible but highly probably accurate.
Often some amount of private study or Education is required for the Alleged, but this is taken care of by an Accountability Pod or other support group that does not involve the harmed person.
Being accountable is also really hard. It takes courage (especially when one isn’t required to be there), to sit and acknowledge they’ve caused pain to others (and likely themselves). It might even mean they weren’t ready to look at it and now they’re sitting down to look at it even though it might invoke punitive ideas of themself as a horrible person.
They can choose to just go to another community and continue being harmful and getting their needs met. If you could help them become 10-20% less harmful and save one other person the experience you went through, would it be worth it to try?
Goals: Writing an Impact Statement
Firstly, let me say there’s no wrong way to write an Impact Statement though not all impact statements will achieve your goals. Your goals are 100% yours to choose. I would suggest the following as possible goals.
- Closure. This is a thing you’ll likely do once and just writing it might help you order and understand what happened.
- Healing. It can help organize and soothe your emotions. You can talk about it with a counselor or as a form of one-off journaling or letter-writing.
- Action. Doing it is a way of taking action and being heard even if you’re the only one who hears you and no one ever reads it. Sometimes doing something feels better than doing (what feels like) nothing.
- Help. You probably have their attention. A mediator can use your suggestions as a catalyst to get the Alleged thinking and hopefully changing. It might not make a difference, but you do have a platform. That platform is yours to be as silent or as loud on this point as you choose.
These endeavors are challenging and draining. Plan to get your needs met.
If self-care is new, get some ideas here. That might include a massage or going to the gym or just crying into a pillow. Schedule a counselling session or arrange a coffee with a close friend or lunch at your place or a movie night. Schedule a bubble bath, meditation, listening to music, or a walk in the park into your calendar so you can be by yourself supporting yourself on your team (if being alone is what you need). Do what feels right to you.
Please remember you’re not alone. Trauma can be extremely isolating and make seeing or trusting people hard. It can feel like the world just doesn’t fucking care anymore. I can’t change your reality, but I can encourage you to reach out to use what social network you have, to use your resources.
Writing an Impact Statement takes time and is about healing and closure. To maximize your success, it’s important to have the time to write it as well as the space and support to process it. If you want a sounding board to just listen, ask for that up front and arrange the time so when you need to do so, they’re available.
What Am I Writing Again?
The things to include in an Impact Statement:
- What Happened. What were the objective events or actions that happened? This is about helping them remember what event or evening, relationship, etc you’re talking about.
- How You Experienced It. How did those events land for you in your internal experience? This is about getting your perspective heard. You can make space for other perspectives, but remember this is your opportunity to say what you need to say.
- Lasting Effects on Your Life. How have those events impacted you in your life?
- How Can They Improve
- What tangible action steps could they take to physically change the objective events that led to this?
- What would likely allow them to continue getting their needs met without causing harm?If you choose, you can include your perception of their intentions and where you think they’re going wrong in the process though this approach can be riskier. Again, say what you need to say. This is about your voice.
- Requests and reparations. This is a hard one because reparations are supposed to be restorative, not punitive. You aren’t punishing them with your requests but helping them restore all parties including yourself. Impact Statements might include no request for reparations and focus instead on other items; however, it’s your turn to talk so you decide. Here are some restorative request examples.
- If you think they should pay for a portion or all of your counselling costs, you can ask for it. If you think they’ll say no, it might be worth making a big ask followed by a smaller ask.If it’s a large sum, maybe include a second, easier request – ie. if they feel unable to pay it, they could pay only a portion of your counselling now with an option to pay for the rest at any point in the future if they decide to do so then.Maybe you want them to write a letter of apology to you or perhaps a statement of change outlining how they plan on changing. Again, please focus on restorative actions, not a public shaming which could be seen as punitive.Having them post a public apology about who they were might feel vindicating but still be a form of Narrative Control, which is not necessarily restorative. Public shaming is harmful and punitive. However if they’ve consistently engaged in Minimize-Deny-Blame defensiveness or Narrative Control insisting you weren’t being truthful, it can be restorative for them to acknowledge stories have multiple sides and that you did have exactly the experience you said you had.
- You can ask for anything, no matter how unreasonable; however the more reasonable your ask, the more likely you’ll get it.
Some write their Impact Statements stream of consciousness and then revise it after the fact, organizing their thoughts after. Others like to start from an outline and discuss one issue at a time. It will be unique to your writing style, your emotional processing style, etc – there is no wrong way to do it. Once you have your aftercare piece figured out, just sit down and attempt to write it.
I hope this is helpful and wish you the very best in your journey. Please take care of yourself. <3